When The Stars Shine Down Upon Us
Monday, September 21, 2009
Chicago is one of the greatest cities on the earth, of this I am convinced.

It is stuffed to the brim with gourmet restaurants, museums, beautiful architecture, cultural events, parks on every corner, a scintillating history rife with organized crime and Al Capone and fires and the Irish and a baseball team whose fans stand by their Cubbies no matter how dismal the drought. But, the winsome appeal of Chicago is not any of these things, factors universal to all big cities. It is, instead, the Midwestern charm of the people of this fair city. There is no big city brusqueness, a sort of mindset of, "We're Big City Folk. And we are better than you, you small towner."

There is none of that. The people here are friendly and open and gracious as they greet everyone with a big smile and a midwestern twang. I do believe it is the Irish that grows in all of them, whether through the Emerald Isle green that runs through their blood or just through association.

I have two separate stories to tell of my time in Chicago. Today, will be the first part.

As I have said before, I believe in the timing of the universe. I believe God sets his stars and planets in perfect alignment, working out our destinations of all the days laid before us.

What a plan he had for me and my kin last weekend!

It was our first night in the city. We'd spend the night before on the outskirts of the city at my sister's beautiful home visiting with the Lovely Lena and her equally lovely sister, Mallory. The giggly sweetness of little girls always makes me a little wistful when I am with these two. Those pink spun-sugar days were entirely too fleeting with our own girls. But, how sweet they were while they lasted.

Just like these two, in their Halloween costumes. Mallory's poodle head was a bit top heavy, causing the pink, precious puppy to stagger a bit under its girth.

Lena wore the Tinkerbell costume I brought her in an ongoing effort to to keep her entranced with me and she immediately morphed into an America's Next Top Model. She worked that camera with some seriously fierce, Tyra Banks' poses. It took everything we had not to laugh at her over the shoulder, smoldering gaze. My sister thinks Lena might be surreptitiously changing the channel from Dora to some Next Top Model, whenever my sister leaves the room.

Our first night in the city, we decided to have a late lunch. My sisters took us to Millennium Park, an enormous park and central hub of the city with restaurants and gardens and ice skating rinks and pavilions and just about anything a person would want in a park.

We ate at a delightful restaurant, choosing to sit outside. (These Northerners grab every opportunity they can in sunshiny weather and thanks to the grace of the Heavens above, we had a gorgeous weekend.) Our table overlooked the passerbys and the park.

My other sister and her lovely family joined us.

I didn't think it could get any better.

That's what I get for thinking.

As we finished up our meal, my sister and I left the table for the ladies room. When we got back, there sat two very, very familiar faces. We squealed in excitement! It was our parents, oldest, dearest friends.

Two people we have known since our first days on the Earth. Our other set of parents. These two with a brood of seven of their own. Many of us kids, sharing the same names, because that was how close our parents were. Birthing and naming babies at the same time. Godparents to each other's children. People we love and hold dear in our hearts, there at our table, Tom and Betty Hansen. (My fingers linger over the keys at those names. Until this past weekend, this 40 somethin girl had called them, Mr and Mrs as I was taught to do. They insisted I was grownup enough now to call them by their first names. I'm not sure they know me as well as they think they do.)

We oohed and aahed and kissed and hugged and turned to our one sister, assuming she had arranged for them to surprise me.

She didn't.

While we were in the bathroom, she sat there, the only girl in the bunch. The boys were talking boy things and so she entertained herself with watching the passerbys and that is why she spotted Tom and Betty Hansen strolling by the restaurant we had chosen and the outside table we had selected at that millisecond on that day in this vast universe. She looked up and saw them passing by on their way to the Lyric Opera that was to be performed in the Pavilion on that night.

How blessed we are.

To give you an understanding of this fabulously, timed moment, I'll give you a little background on these two and our intertwined lives.

I asked, ahem, Betty, this weekend, how long she and my mother had been friends. She counted up and told me, 70 years.

70 years. I hope we all can find that kind of friendship in our lives.

We grew up, towns and then states away from each other, but we always made time for visits, splendid visits.

We are of the same like. Big, booming families bursting in a constant din of voices, over-shouting each other to be heard. We knew know how to have a good time with laughter and family and a bit of the Irish liquid magic. Their seven and our seven were are as thick as thieves when we are together. I spoke to one of their girls, same age and name as one of my sisters, on the way into the city. She called to say she was in town, too, for their oldest brother's birthday and she would try to gather a crowd of siblings to get together with us.

It didn't happen, thanks to grand plans on both our sides, but still the intention was there.

The Hansens had five girls and two boys. The boys were sweet, wonderful and God-awful handsome, but it was the girls that my sisters and I knew best. There could be months, a year or two, between visits, but it didn't matter, we picked up as if we'd never been apart, as sisters do.

My only problem with these girls who were quite possibly wilder and crazier than me, (not easy to do), was this.....

They are all Brooke Shields beautiful. Stunning girls, who to this day, are stopped on the street because of their extraordinary beauty. It can be a major bummer when you're a teenage girl surrounded by five of those kind of stunning.

And by the way, yes that is my wedding and the little girl doing the winking, (her two year old version of smiling) was their oldest daughter's, Mary's little girl. Mary and I grew up together and having her daughter as my flower girl was such a lovely honor. That baby flower girl is now a woman with her own children. Dear Lawdy, the time flies too fast!

Mary and I have been friends, sisters, since before either of us can even remember. We are the same age, same name. (Her first name is my middle one.) We shared the same interests, bike riding and barbies and then on to boys and um...drinking. We met our husbands-to-be, both around the same time. And somehow, we always managed, in every situation, to find the fun.

There was this True Story: The Hansen family came down for a visit to The Land of The Tropics when Mary and I were about 16. Mary and I took the car out one restless night in search of some beer. (Don't judge me, Internet.) We were underage, (18 was legal age at the time), but being sweet, lovely things, (one of us, more so than the other), it was never too tough to talk someone into giving us something. It was a different time when folks weren't as concerned about the dangers of under-age drinking, I guess?

So, Mary and I decided to use our pretty, teenage wiles on the Drive Thru Beverage Barn Boys. We drove in, batting our eyelashes and asking sweetly for a six-pack. The Drive Thru Dude stuck his head in our window, took one look at us and asked for ID. We invented stories about our missing ID's, we flirted, we cajoled, we joked with him and even though he enjoyed our attentions, he stayed steadfast. No beer.

Good Man.

The next morning, Mr. Tom Hansen, had to restock the orange juice for our gang of 14 thirsty kids. He asked Mary and I to come along for the ride. And since Tom is a great conversationalist, a fantastic dad and a wonderful singer of songs, we happily accompanied him.

Yes, OF COURSE, he went to the Drive Thru Beverage Barn. And, ABSOLUTELY, Mary and I were conveniently sitting abreast in the front seat of the station wagon, right next to Tom.

And, YES, it happened to be the Beverage Dude's shift, again. The Dude worked a little too much, in my opinion.

As Tom rattled out the necessities, the Beverage Dude concentrated on his order. Mary and I sat next to her Pa, sweating it out, ducking our heads, hoping our hair would hide our guilty, under-age faces.

Tom finished his order. The dude worked efficiently gathering all of our groceries. And as he handed Tom the groceries, without a beat of hesitation, Drive-Thru Dude stuck his head in the car and said with a smirk, "Good Morning, Ladies. Hope your evening was a good one."

I don't remember what kind of on-the-spot explanation we gave Tom as we pulled away, but I told him that story the other night, and in Tom fashion, he loved it.

Tom and Betty had a quick bite with us the other night and then headed off to the opera, but before they did I made them promise to meet us later for the fabulous dinner we had planned. Tom muttered about how late the hour would be and I turned to him and used the classic line, the one that my father in his constant pursuit of The Joie De Vivre, always said to me: "In days to come, what will you remember? The sleep you had or the wonderful time you chose to have?"

When I told him those were the words of his dearest friend, I knew I had him.

And speaking of...

On that terrible day, Tom and Betty were one of the first ones at our side and they were the last ones to leave.

They stayed because they knew.

Seven days after my father's death was my parent's 44th wedding anniversary.

He almost made it.

My parents had big plans for the night- big romantic plans.

We got through their anniversary, the only way we knew how. We took our mother, not to some exquisite, fancy restaurant with hushed conversations and fancy foods. We gathered the tribe and took my mother to the ultra posh, Bucca di Beppo where we overtook the Pope Room.

Now for those of you, not familiar with the place, it is a family style Italian restaurant with charm in abundance. It is loud and fun and the exquisite Sophia Loren's photos are plastered all over the walls. There is a room with an enormous round table. It is definitely an Italian's idea of a shrine to the Pope, a room built for enjoying food, filled with pictures of the various popes and a giant bust of a Pope sitting in the center of the table. It is actually a functional Pope, a Lazy Susan or Lazy Pope who spins the food around for everyone's noshing enjoyment.

We chose to commemorate my dad there.

He came with us.

He sat in the Pope Chair, in his beautiful urn with his fishing hat perched atop the marble top, a glass of his beloved red wine in front of him. We drank red wine, passed the food, shared the stories, cried only for a second and then laughed and laughed and laughed uproariously, remembering it all.

The only way my Dad would have had things.

Our team of waiters were a little frightened, I think, when we introduced my Dad, but towards the end of our night, they joined us in a toast to the great man.

Somewhere in the midst of that fine night of celebration, I started a little game that The Hubby and I have played there before with friends, called Confess to the Pope.

The rules are:
You have to imbibe a great deal of wine.
Then, the Lazy Pope gets a big, old spin and whomever it lands on has to confess a sin.

It has led to some of the most delicious fun of my life.

This night was no exception.

We screamed in joyous laughter with all the drunken revelations. And Tom and Betty were as big a part of the fun as the rest of us.

How I love those two and their brood of seven.

They made good on their promise and after the opera, they did not think about the sleep they would be missing and instead joined us in a delightful dinner filled with sisters, and husbands and lovely friends that led well into the morning hours.

I was wrecked with fatigue the next morning, my birthday morning. Stumbling in the door at 4:00 AM, becomes tougher and tougher as the years go by. When I woke up, just a few short hours later, through my haze, I checked my emails and found this:

"Tom and Betty":..comes the familiar voice out of the crowd and thus begins the enhancement of our evening,... frosting on our cake,... whip cream on our brownie...what a wonderful surprise!!!... ;;

Surrounded by Cleveland Femme Fatales , Betty and Tom are awash with love and happiness. What a lovelyway to spend an evening. ( and we thought that the Lyric Opera program was going to be the highpoint of our night...what did we know!)

The stories abound, Scott, Bill, Gino...what a blessing to see you all and the beautiful children. Your friends at the table were a delight, as well.

Joann quoting Jack "Years from now ,what will you remember...A wonderful evening or getting a good night's sleep".and that sealed the deal. Thank you so much for hosting us at the Birthday Dinner.

We all had an eventful evening.

All our love forever, Betty and Tom..(yes Joann Betty and Tom...Mr. and Mrs. Hansen will still love you)

The timing of the universe, how extraordinary beautiful it can be.

Download of the Day: U2's "Beautiful Day." Such an uplifting, gorgeous song. Such a great opening to one of their best albums of all time. Such a statement to the life we should all try to lead. Such a hint at what's to come in my next post. Such a feeling for that beautiful day where the stars lined up in a perfect alignment.


ProudSister said...

It was a Beautiful Day & what a privilege to be a part of it. Dad would have been proud of all of us!

JanePollock said...

That picture of Lena reminds me of Julia. I am glad you got to catch up with some friends while you were in Chicago.

Aunt Becky said...

Chicago is totally the best city on Earth.

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